Security up on peninsula

Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2003

Although the Kenai Peninsula has received no direct threats related to the war in Iraq, the U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska National Guard and Alaska State Troopers are on heightened awareness for possible trouble.

"We have increased our activity in North Kenai," said Capt. Tom Bowman, commander of the trooper detachment in Soldotna, without revealing any specifics. North Kenai is home to petroleum processing plants and marine docks that serve offshore oil platforms in Cook Inlet.

Bowman said troopers have been getting regular briefings from trooper headquarters in Anchorage, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

"We have received no direct threats nor do we anticipate any for the Kenai Peninsula," he said. "We have instructed troopers to increase their awareness."

The Coast Guard reports it continues to be prepared, but Chief Petty Officer Roger Wetherell said he was not at liberty to detail specific operations in Cook Inlet.

He said the Coast Guard mission in Alaska includes search and rescue, law enforcement, maritime pollution response, vessel inspections and security patrols from air and sea.

"We patrol from helicopters and from C-130s (fixed wing aircraft), and we have instituted sea marshals," he said.

Sea marshals are armed guardsmen who are authorized to board and inspect vessels entering Alaska waters.

The majority of the Coast Guard's Alaska build-up in relation to the war in Iraq has been the reactivation of more than 25 people who have been in reserve status until now, according to Wetherell.

"Some have been training in Anchorage and at Fort Richardson," he said. They are being trained in ship boarding procedures and as sea marshals.

The Coast Guard has 17 cutters deployed in and around Alaska, plus eight or nine smaller patrol boats, he said.

On the Kenai Peninsula, the Roanoke Island 110-foot cutter is based in Homer and a similar cutter, the Mustang, is based in Seward. Wetherell said the Coast Guard also has a newly created volunteer Coast Guard Auxiliary search and rescue unit in Whittier.

"There appears to be great security coverage in Alaska waters including the Bering Sea," he said.

The Alaska Air National Guard and Alaska Army National Guard have been doing annual training on the peninsula for the past two weeks, according to Maj. Mike Haller. Training has been conducted in Kenai, Seward and Valdez.

"One of the things we paid very close attention to in our training in Valdez this year is homeland security training," Haller said. "Aviation had a significant piece in that, particularly with helicopters for the Alaska Army National Guard."

He said Valdez was especially important because of the state's oil resources that move through there, but it isn't the only place of concern.

"As important as Valdez is, Nikiski and the Kenai Peninsula are important to us (as well)."

Bowman said people are encouraged to have three days to a week's worth of emergency supplies on hand, including food, water and first-aid supplies.

"Keep your gas tanks full, store additional fuel at your residence and keep a battery-operated radio handy," he said.

"Alaskans seem to be more independent," he said. "This is nothing new for Alaskans. Our people here are more self-reliant than (people) in the Lower 48."

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